Indian Government has turned no stone unturned to resort to vigilantism against
social media, news reporting agency and now the newly loved OTT platforms, the
main source of entertainment for the local populace during the frequent mundane
lockdowns. Anyone who is even a little aware of the socio-political milieu of
India would particularly agree the move to censor the OTT platforms was not a
piece of news that might shock you to the core.
Rather it was particularly
expected by everyone to be introduced quite earlier. Their increasing influence
meant that sooner or later they will come under the scanner. The Guidelines
particularly lay down rules and tests for the big national and international
production houses to re-evaluate business policies to work in India.
we have to understand the reason for the increasing dominance of OTT platforms
in the entertainment industry which has been historically the prerogative of a
few oligarchs such as Yash Raj Production, Dharma Productions etc. In a few
years from almost zero to now, dozens of platforms have started streaming movies
This makes it a very lucrative and growing field of interest from a
socio-political aspect. Therefore, in this Article ahead we will find out what
makes OTT platforms the next big thing in India and why there was a need felt to
regulate it by the Government.
Analysis of Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital
Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021
Rising Influence of OTT Platforms
- Challenging the Consumer Taste
These are only some of the topics that are frequently touched by the production
houses on OTT platforms. They have certainly challenged the perceptions of the
Indian consumer by playing across screen characters that depict reality of a
common man in India in contrast to the watered-down story of the movie industry.
- OTT platforms have made a tremendous dent in the business of private cinema
houses and packed up a bumper share in the entertainment sector of India, a
niche that has been historically a prerogative of Big Cinema boxes. The
tremendous increase in popularity also meant more scrutiny by the hand of the
A part reason for the popularity of OTT platforms in
India besides its portability convenience is its ability to provide a platform
and audience to the smaller and new production houses with genuine and provoking
scripts were given exposure to the vast audience of India. Not only shows
produced on the old dreaded scrips were replaced but a new wave of a renaissance
in the Indian Entertainment Sector was being witnessed with movies and Serials
constantly showcasing the actual problems in the slums and the house of a local
Man in India such as:
- Rising Hindu Nationalism
- Corruption in bureaucracy
- Discrimination faced by women of upper caste and lower caste alike
- Rising prejudices against the minorities in India
- Rising economic inequality
- Competitive Prices
Since OTT platform is Pay to Play, the audience is still refined to the elitist
in India. Some platforms such as Netflix charge as much as 9600/- per year which
for a country like India is still an expenditure many can’t afford. This
certainly limits the exposure of the OTT based movies and show to a limited
sphere but recently to take advantage of the idle populace during the lockdown,
many companies reduced their charges and came up with affordable packages
starting at 80 Rs. per month, opening the platform to a new target audience.
During the last year, there has been a tremendous increase of 30 % in
audience viewership, which can be pegged at 29 million. From slums to high rise
apartments in Bombay, OTT platforms have found their audience discerning the
Part reason for the rise of OTT cannot be just connected with the increase in
quantity and quality but also to the rise of ubiquitous cheap 4G internet and
smartphones, inchoated by the emergence of Jio. India has currently one of the
cheapest prices per Gigabyte of the Internet across the world. Availability
of cheap internet can be said to be the prime reason for the increase in per
capita consumption in India which has direct bearing on the increase in total
viewership of OTT platforms.
March 22nd, 2020 India went into a nationwide lockdown, which meant total
restriction on daily life movements as we know. Everyone was directed to work
from home from the comfort of their home while wearing pajamas and sipping on
cold homemade Dalgona Coffee. In totality, it meant less time spent on
traveling, unnecessary trips to different workplaces, less work burden, etc.
now surplus time left had to be spent somewhere and the whole world turned
towards OTT platforms, the only source of entertainment away from the same rigid
walls of your apartments and rooms, a getaway to the far foreign land outside
your houses which had almost become a fantasy for a common man after months of
rigid lockdowns. Understandably, the long stay at home turned out to be the
icing on the cake for the OTT platforms.
The viewership by leaps and bounds
rocketed to all-time high viewership. This also led to a tremendous increase in
the number of platforms and as a result making sure that quality did not drop
and the both the consumers and the producers won, a result of which Adam Smith
would be proud.
- The Third Wheel- Government.
Ott platforms and the consumers were having the time of their life. 1000’ of
movies and series at the behest of your remote while you were scrounging on good
cheap food in your comfy clothes - A dream of all the cinephiles who have had to
go to theatres and buy ridiculously expensive food. But the THIRD WHEEL, the
Government had to put a spoke in our wheel.
The government notified the Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital media
ethics rule, 2021 after a large outcry by the nationalist against showcasing the
different harsh truths of our society, a propaganda as they say to defame the
Indian egalitarian culture. These guidelines will force some of the biggest
entertainment houses to recalculate their business plans and the policy
regarding their publication of movies and series that directly challenge the
The rules firstly address new guidelines for internet intermediaries, who are
entities that store or transmit data on behalf of other people which in the case
of the internet can be social media as well as other platforms.
These intermediaries are expected to observe ‘due diligence’ which includes
- Providing the user information about the terms and conditions of usage
- Blocking content within 36 hours after receiving a notice ordering that
from either the Court or the government.
- Retaining registration information of a user for 180 days after
cancellation of registration
While these guidelines apply to all the intermediaries, some additional
guidelines also have been issued for significant Social Media Intermediaries
(Intermediaries which possess a userbase higher than a specific threshold).
These are as following;
- Appointing a resident of India as the Chief Compliance Officer, who
should ensure to the compliance with IT rules and Acts.
- Appointing a resident of India as Nodal Contact Person. This particular
entity is required to coordinate and remain in contact with Law enforcement
- Appointing a resident of India as the Grievance Officer.
- Publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of the
complaints and the actions are taken as a result of the complaint.
The new rules also provide for a set of ethics that are to be followed by
digital media publishers. The norms provided by Journalistic Conduct of Press
Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Regulation
Act are to be followed by new and other information providers.
The OTT platforms are on the other hand required to perform some special
forms of regulations such as:
- Classify their content into five categories of:
- U (Unrestricted)
- U/A 7+ (Unrestricted Public exhibition subject to parental guidance for
children below the age of 7)
- U/A 13+ (Unrestricted Public exhibition subject to parental guidance for
children below the age of 13)
- U/A 16+ (Unrestricted Public exhibition subject to parental guidance for
children below the age of 16)
- An (Adult)
- OTT platforms are required to implement required parental locks to
restrict the access of maturely classified content from underage consumers.
Most importantly, the new guidelines provide for Intermediaries to set up
Grievance Redressal Mechanism. The appointed GRD the officer should acknowledge
the complaint within 24 hours and the complaint should be resolved within 15
A three-tier Grievance Redressal mechanism will be needed to set up to deal with
complaints regarding content:
- The first tier would be self-regulation by the publishers.
- The second Tier would be self- regulation by the Self-Regulating bodies
of the Publishers.
- he third tier would be an oversight mechanism by the central government.
As part of the oversight the mechanism, the Ministry of Information and
Broadcasting will establish an Inter-Departmental Committee to hear
grievances not addressed by self-regulating bodies and also oversee
adherence to the code of ethics.
The Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting after being recommended
by the authorized officers may pass an interim order to block content in case of
emergency situations where ‘no delay is acceptable. The final order over by the
blocking of the content will be passed by Inter-Departmental Committee.
Self-Regulation: Boon or Bane?
The Government in the new guidelines has put the onus on the publishers to make
sure that the content they publish adheres to the public policy and the ethics
laid down by the government. Therefore, the government has given two avenues for
the platforms to oversee the content being published and take cognizance of the
matter. Companies such as Netflix and Prime who do not even have an office in
India will now be required to mend their ways and re-evaluate their working
strategy in India.
Previously, there was no law or autonomous body governing digital content. They
were certainly given a free hand in deciding what the platforms spoon feed to
their audience. Unrestricted growth coupled with incentives meant that the OTT
platforms became a very profitable sector and as a result, over a period of two
to three years from almost zero now dozens of companies popped up providing
Therefore, it was inevitable that government comes out to regulate
this new booming sector in India. With the biggest youth population, many OTT
platforms resorted to creating content with nudity, extreme violence, fake
narratives, etc to capture the attention of the youth. Regulation will at least
help cleanse what is being spoon-fed as content and entertainment by some
Upon analysis, one can identify broadly two objects of government:
- Regulate the entry of certain players in this sector by putting the onus
on the companies to regulate themselves, a task not every new player may
- Regulating the content that is being fed to the population at large who
have found their convenience in finding the realities of the world by not
reading news or facing the truth themselves but from ‘fictions influenced by
Regulation is a necessary evil to make sure what is being published is in
conformity to what is good for the public. By providing a grievance mechanism
and strict adherence to the timeline, platforms will have to show more restraint
in whatever they publish.
While the guidelines were necessary there are some inherent loopholes too. While
we talk about self-regulation there is an inherent assumption that the companies
will adhere to the guidelines strictly. But that’s the problem, if they don’t
follow the required steps there is no strict punishment other than a reprimand
and admonishment. As perfectly described by the Judge of Supreme Court Bench,
Rules are in the nature of guidelines with no effective regulation from either
screening or taking appropriate action against who violate these guidelines.
It succinctly describes the concern of the Supreme court that the guidelines are
all teeth but no bite. While self-regulation Is a an efficient method of
surveillance but if it is not supplemented by stern punishments and actions it
is just a free pass to all the platforms to go about as they wonder.
India with its huge population and other problems has still a long way to go in
reforming the structure and controlling digital media platforms without
violating the sanctity of the entire entertainment organization. The only way to
find a solution is by deliberation between the actors and the consumers and
individual choice. A deliberate consensus among the different players can be
amicably reached. Regulation has its counterproductive aspects such as the rise
in piracy and illicit websites on the internet which would not harm the
producers of such movies but also harm the self-interest of the consumer in the
- Corporate Author, India’s OTT Market: Witnessing a rise in number of
paid subscribers, Indian Brand Equity Foundation, Accessed on April 1 2021.
- Corporate Author, Worldwide Mobile Data Pricing 2020, Cable.co.uk, Accessed
on April 2, 2021.
- Corporate Author, India’s date use rose by 20% in December, The Hindu,
Accessed on April 2, 2021, (https://www.thehindu.com/business/indians-data-use-rose-20-in-december/article33814207.ece)
- Prabhjote Gill, ’Supreme Court challenges India’s new rules for governing
Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other OTT’s’, Business Insider, Accessed on
3rd April 2021,